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regular-article-logo Friday, 21 June 2024

Aura of MS Dhoni, IPL’s one & only constant: Mystery looms over new 'role' in Chennai Super Kings

It has been almost four years since the man bid adieu to international cricket. But Dhoni’s still as popular as he used to be during his Team India days

Sayak Banerjee Calcutta Published 18.03.24, 08:10 AM
Captain Cool is ready to rock.

Captain Cool is ready to rock. Picture: CSK

April 23, 2023. As soon as he stepped out on the field during the Chennai Super Kings' warm-up ahead of their match against Kolkata Knight Riders, Eden Gardens reverberated with the "Dhoniiii... Dhoniiii" chants.

Right through that IPL league-phase game, which the Knight Riders lost by 49 runs, the capacity crowd at the Eden had screamed their lungs out for Dhoni and his Super Kings. The fans couldn't witness Dhoni's death-overs pyrotechnics, but cheered all the fours, sixes and the wickets Thala's teammates took.

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It has been almost four years since the man bid adieu to international cricket. But Dhoni’s still as popular as he used to be during his Team India days.

At the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai — home of the Super Kings — large murals of Dhoni in both Team India and Super Kings colours with Thala inscribed on them adorn the entrance to the C, D and E boxes of the venue. Those murals had hogged a fair amount of limelight even when Chennai hosted its share of the ODI World Cup games last year.

Dhoni wasn't there at the Chidambaram during any of the World Cup games. Yet, his aura seemed to be present in almost all corners of the venue.

Such is Dhoni's enigma, which is set to engulf Chennai (and the rest of the country as well) once again when the action begins next Friday with the Super Kings, the defending champions, facing Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL 2024 opener.

But will Dhoni be there for all the CSK games this season?

A few days back, he had posted on social media about his new "role" for this IPL season. Does that imply the Super Kings skipper will don a new role for his franchise this season? Or was it just a promotional stunt? Only Dhoni knows.

But, considering he is already 42, will Dhoni continue to be effective this time as well? Particularly with the bat? Although he had finished with a strike rate of 182.45 last year from 12 innings, Dhoni has been coming lower down the order on most occasions in the last two IPLs.

Suppose the Super Kings suffer a batting collapse and lose almost all their reliable batters, will the Dhoni magic be able to bail them out this year too? The five-time champions would certainly like to believe so.

“Even now, MS has been very meticulous in following the process in training which he used to back in 2008 as well. That may not produce the right result all the time, but it does work on most occasions.

"In other words, he’s one who has championed work ethics. Given what he has achieved for the team and his contributions, it’s MS who will decide his own retirement,” CSK CEO Kasi Viswanathan told The Telegraph.

Of course, there will be huge shoes to fill once Dhoni retires from the IPL.

Dhoni's presence in the CSK dugout in future in some capacity is obviously a big possibility. But in terms of on-field matters, the man who replaces Dhoni as captain, whenever that time comes, will have a massive task at his disposal.

Ravindra Jadeja was appointed skipper in 2022. But the performance of CSK in those eight games Jadeja had led wasn’t up to expectations. And the management then handed the captaincy reins back to Dhoni in that edition itself.

The Super Kings had finished second from bottom that season, winning only four games.

But at some point, CSK will have to find Dhoni’s successor. The Jadeja ploy didn't work, but trying opener Ruturaj Gaikwad out for the role may not be a bad idea.

The Maharashtra batsman, having represented India in six ODIs and 19 T20Is, has shown the strength of mind in tough periods. That's Dhoni-esque.

Gaikwad was dropped from the team after his inauspicious start in IPL 2020. Dhoni had then rued the "lack of spark" among the youngsters, but Gaikwad hit back with a string of impressive scores that enabled CSK to finish that season on a better note.

Since then, Gaikwad has been a regular in CSK XIs. More importantly, he's now one of Dhoni's most reliable and trusted soldiers.

But CSK are in no hurry to find their next captain. In fact, they believe Dhoni himself will play the lead role in deciding who's next after him.

“MS himself will facilitate that (finding the next CSK captain). He’ll get the right man for the job at the right time,” the Super Kings CEO emphasised.

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